How Can Photographers Keep Their Work Safe Against Online Theft?


Mohit Kamboj

The internet has provided photographers a great way to showcase their work and grow a following. Despite all the benefits, a noticeable problem has emerged: many stolen images. Since the internet is such a vast space, most theft goes unnoticed. So, what can photographers do to protect their intellectual property?

Use the power of watermarks

Watermarks have been used as a form of protecting intellectual property for centuries. Painters used them, usually by adding their signature to the painting, to avoid theft. As photography, and art in general, became more digitalized, watermarks remain a quick and effective way for creatives to protect their work. They serve as a visible indication of ownership and act as a deterrent to unauthorized usage.

While images can be manipulated to remove the watermark, that process is time-consuming and requires a certain level of technical knowledge. Additionally, watermarks can serve as a branding opportunity by including a logo or website URL.

Include copyright notices to deter misuse

Copyright notices assert the copyright ownership and rights of the photographer over their images. Including them can provide additional legal protection and serve as a deterrent to potential infringers. Copyright notices are usually added below an image as it appears on a website. Here is an example:

© 2023 John Doe Photography. All Rights Reserved.

Optionally, include contact information like an email address or a phone number. This is especially useful if you’re open to people re-using your photography with prior notice.

Alternatively, you could embed copyright and contact information into the metadata of your images. This is another way for people to identify you as the copyright owner and facilitate contact for licensing or permission requests.

Encrypt your image files

You can’t expect others to respect your property if you don’t respect it yourself. You should encrypt images to prevent unauthorized access, like all information you don’t want to lose.

It’s best to store your files with a secure storage solution that offers encryption for data at rest and in transit.

To take it further, you could use client-side encryption software to encrypt your image files locally before uploading them to the cloud storage. This ensures only you have the encryption keys and access to the decrypted files.

Disable right-clicking and image dragging

If you primarily share your work on your website, it’s best to disable the right-click function over images. This will prevent visitors from easily saving a copy of your image to their computer. Disabling right-clicking and image dragging is pretty straightforward. You can do it with JavaScript or HTML code on your website, even with no coding experience.

It’s important to note that savvy visitors can find a way around this and still access your images. That’s why you should take as many protective measures as possible such as watermarks and notices.

Register your work

Registering your work means formally submitting your images to the appropriate copyright office to obtain copyright protection. The process typically involves completing an application, paying a registration fee, and submitting a copy or copies of the photographs to the copyright office.

While this might sound like too much work, it is the best protection you can get for your images. Registration creates a verifiable record of the photographer’s ownership of the photos. It serves as evidence that they are the original creator and rightful copyright holder. This will help significantly if you’re involved in a court case over copyright violations.

Since registering your work requires a bit more work, it’s best to consult with a copyright attorney or intellectual property professional to understand the potential benefits and legal implications of registering your work.

How to detect unauthorized usage?

Taking preventive measures to avoid misuse is only part of the problem. You also need to learn how to identify infringements so you can take appropriate action. Regularly search for your images using reverse image search tools to detect unauthorized usage. Several free online services can help you track down instances of image theft.


By combining these measures, photographers can enhance the safety of their valuable creations. Quick and easy actions like watermarking and disabling right-clicking on your website can be very effective. Registering your work offers the strongest protection and evidence in case of infringement.